<
>

Wie stays steady, makes first cut in Korea

5/5/2006 - Golf

INCHEON, South Korea -- Like snow in spring, skepticism of Michelle Wie is slowly melting away.

Wie passed another historic benchmark while America slept, making the cut in an international men's tour event for the first time. She didn't sneak in under the dark of night, either, at the Asian Tour's SK Telecom Open. She followed her opening-round 70 (2-under par) with a second-round 69. At minus-5, she is six shots out of the lead heading into the weekend.

Wie leads PGA Tour player K.J. Choi by a stroke.

She became the second woman to make the cut in a men's event in south Korea; Se Ri Pak finished tied for 10th in the lower-tier KPGA Tour SBS Pro-Golf Championship in 2003. She is the first to do it on the Asian Tour. The last woman to make a cut on the PGA Tour? Babe Zaharias at the 1945 Tucson Open.

To kick down this barrier, Wie overcame a small-scale illness, a small-scale injury and a small-scale episode of "Cops".

Wie came down with a stomach flu earlier in the week, which was serious enough to warrant a doctor's visit. She went a night without eating but fought through the pro-am and two rounds of competition. She's also replaced her glittering Omega watch with a wrist band, meant to help her heal from tightness in her forearm that has nagged her for weeks. A doctor also weighed in on that, and the prognosis is good.

Wie didn't look debilitated in any way on Friday, as thousands ringed each fairway and made each green look like the setting for a bullfight. Koreans climbed trees, hills and rocks to get a glimpse of Wie.

The story of her success this week was turning around what foiled her earlier attempts to make the cut at a men's event: her putting. In Japan last fall, and again at the PGA Tour's Sony Open in January, every putt looked like a problem. This week, every putt looked makable. Before, she was leaving many putts short and to the right. This week, she hit almost every attempt with a sure swing and a palpable certainty. She had 28 putts in the first round and 29 on Friday. She has not three-putted a single green.

Even more importantly, she has not become distracted. Friday's mob scene included the incessant click-click-click of cameras on every downswing, and even during a backswing or two. Wie had to step away from the ball on more than one occasion because of the clatter. But her concentration did not falter.

Then there was the 14th hole, and one of the oddest situations in her young career. The fairway rides along a major highway to the airport, and fans had parked their cars along the shoulder to catch a glimpse of Wie. Dozens of vehicles lined up -- like a scene from "Independence Day" without the aliens -- as Wie got to the green. Then, as she stepped to her putt, a police car approached with sirens blaring. The officer, oblivious to the moment, kept his siren on and threw in some megaphone-enhanced admonishment for the gawkers. The noise kept on during Wie's putt, which she barely missed. Dozens of Korean fans on the course screamed obscenities at the officer.

The scene only got more ridiculous on the next hole, as fans along the road actually got out of their cars, stood on their hoods, and waved at Wie. By this time, cars on the opposite side of the road were also screeching to a halt to rubberneck. Soon they, too, caught on and enjoyed free admission.

With gridlock on the highway and in the gallery, Wie dropped a seven-footer for birdie.

Everything that once dismantled Wie saved her in the first two rounds. She landed iron approaches close to holes. Her chipping was drastically improved, even from her final-hole struggle at the Kraft Nabisco, where she turned a 20-foot lob into a 10-foot comebacker and missed a chance to win her first major.

Between shots, she chatted and smiled where once she folded her arms in tense silence.

When she sank her par putt on the 18th and sealed history after eight missed cuts in men's event, she did not show much emotion. Just her usual smile and wave. Afterwards she said she felt "wonderful -- just really really happy," but then said, "it's not done yet" and mentioned her wish to not only make a PGA Tour cut, but finish in the top 10.

On a warm spring day just outside of Seoul, anything seems possible.

Eric Adelson writes for ESPN Magazine. E-mail him at eric.adelson@espn3.com. He is writing a book on Wie for ESPN Books, due out next year.